Study Guide

Italia Mia Betrayal

By Petrarch

Betrayal

You, in whose hands Fortune has placed the reins
of these beautiful regions
for which it seems no pity moves your heart,
what are the swords of strangers doing here? (17-20)

Petrarch sees the lack of social responsibility on the part of the nobility as the greatest ill of the day. Because they've traded loyalty to their own people and land for the ability to gain power and fortune, Petrarch calls them out.

O deluge that was gathered
from what strange wilderness
to inundate all our sweet countryside!
If by our very hands
this has been done, then who will rescue us? (28-32)

Petrarch has a real problem with the princes of Italy for importing foreign mercenaries to fight their battles (stupid battles, at that). He feels that they have traded paradise to the Germanic horde, which will destroy their lands and people.

Your disagreeing wills
despoil the fairest part of all the world.
What fault, what judgment, or what destiny
makes you harass your wretched
neighbor […]? (55-58)

The Italian nobles can't play nice with each other and because of their pride and anger will destroy their beautiful land. Petrarch tries his best to show that this fault will have wide-ranging and long-term effects. It's not just about personal reputation and familial fortune. He's also interested in drawing their attention to the lives of their countrymen, which they are destroying.

[...] and seek out
foreign friends, glad to know
that they shed blood and sell their souls for money? (60-62)

With friends like these, Petrarch seems to say, who needs enemies? And it works both ways: what kind of people are these Italian nobles, who have no problem betraying their own people and then buying friends that they know will die senseless deaths? It's a lose-lose.

With all the proof are you not yet aware
of the Bavarian treason
which with hand raised makes death into a game? (65-67)

Petrarch reminds the nobility that it's a bad idea to hire Germans to fight their wars, since they have a major grudge against the Italians because of a centuries-old massacre—bad choice of friends.

The shame seems worse to me than the actual loss.
But you let your blood flow
more generously, for other anger whips you. (68-70)

Not only are the nobility willing to spill the blood of foreigners and their neighbors, they're also willing to waste their own lives in the pursuit of strength and money. It's all a game to these guys, who value nothing but power.

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